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review 2018-04-18 19:26
The School for Psychics
The School for Psychics - K. C. Archer

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

An enjoyable fast-read when it came to the ‘psychic powers’ theme. I really liked the premise: a young woman who’s been making questionable decisions, and gets a second chance in a school for people with psychic abilities, where they’re trained to protect and server… but a few people on the inside have different agendas, and it’s a constant game of trying to figure out what’s at stake, and if it’s going to be a bunch of revelations, or something much more lethal. The powers the students have are varied, ranging from precognition to telepathy and even pyrokinesis, and I liked how the novel tried to bring a scientific approach to it: after all, they’re training people who’re going to end up working for the FBI or NSA.

The first scene also engaged me from the beginning, what’s with Teddy being banned from Las Vegas casinos, but still sneaking into one, disguised as a different woman, to hopefully win the money she owes a Russian crime boss, because otherwise her own parents will be targeted. Well, OK, nevermind that she should never have let things go that far, all the more if she’s so good at reading people at the poker table, but ‘questionable decisions’ being a key here, alright, I can go with that.

On the other hand, I never really got a good feeling for Teddy, or for the other characters. Some of them had a sort of ‘larger than life’ vibe, with their quirks (the animal medium who likes doing yoga naked, the ex-cop who’s a charmer and can literally set things on fire, the hacker who’s also an empath…); but they remained fairly one-dimensional. Teddy barely thought of her family except in the beginning, we know nothing of the others except for a couple of things like ‘his family’s rich and he has a boat’, and so when the story took a more action/heist-oriented turn, it was hard to root for them.

The other thing I didn’t like—and which contributed to my not enjoying the sotry as much as I hoped—was the globally juvenile aspects. These people are 20-something (Teddy’s 24, and Pyro must be at least 25 considering he served in the police for some time, and I doubt you just start there at 15 or so), but the whole Whitfield academy had a strong high school feeling, and I constantly thought I was reading a YA novel when in fact it was marketed as geared towards adult, with adult characters. I don’t mind YA in general, even though I have my gripes about a lot of books; I don’t think that ‘because it’s YA, it’s necessarily stupid and uninteresting.’ This said, the aforementioned gripes involve a certain number of tropes that I find cringe-worthy, such as the mandatory romance and love triangle, the professor who immediately favours certain students and begrudges the heroine and her friends, or the whole ‘school stars vs. misfits’ aspect. And those tropes were clearly present here, to the point of making me forget that those characters were, uh, two years from going to work for the FBI? Suspension of disbelief was then shattered every time forensics or the shooting range was mentioned; it’s like the story couldn’t make up his mind about whether it was meant to be about teenagers or about adult people.

Not sure if I’ll be interested in the sequel.

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review 2018-04-12 19:06
Wendigo Rising
Wendigo Rising - James A. Hunter

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

Still an original setting, one that makes use of less known supernatural/folklore creatures (such as Sasquatches—I don’t think I’ve seen a single vampire yet in this series, and this is refreshing). We also find again some of the previously involved characters, such as agent Ferraro, Yancy’s old Vietnam comrade Greg, and James from the Guild, along with unlikely allies in the person of, well, Bigfoot and his daughter (he’s not named Bigfoot, although Yancy keeps calling him Kong, for want of being able to remember his full name). To be fair, at times I preferred these two Sasquatches, once they got past their tendency to refuse to explain their real reasons.

Some of the action scenes were pretty interesting. There’s a curious ‘battle of the bands’ at some point, mixing music with combat, and that isn’t something I’ve often read. Other such scenes left me quirking an eyebrow, though, like the one with Cassius. I quite dig Cassius, but I’d like to know more about him, apart from the little Yancy tells us about him, and the fight scene I’m thinking about, the one at the end, was… OK, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to make of it. It was fun in a WTF way, but it jarred with the rest of the UF/supernatural-oriented action. I think a little less action in parts would’ve been good here.

This book tended to annoy me more than the previous ones when it comes to Yancy’s personality, though. I’m all OK for the grumpy, no-strings-attached guy who prefers to live in his car, but the way he acts at times is much too childish for someone with so many years of experience, and especially so many battles and betrayals behind him. I guess this is why I particularly appreciated the moment when ‘monsters’ put him back in his place regarding ‘all the people they had killed’ vs. ‘did you ever wonder if the monsters you killed had friends and families?’

Conclusion: 2.5 stars, there are good things in this series, and the end paves the way for more, since part of the threat is gone, but not fully… and things could still go terribly wrong.

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text 2018-04-10 03:38
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Carrow Haunt - Darcy Coates

This is Darcy Coates new book. It was really good! Review to come...

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review 2018-04-04 10:48
The Sacrifice Box
The Sacrifice Box - Martin Stewart

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

The blurb for this book immediately reminded me of some of the horror books I’d read in the early 90s—mostly Stephen King paperbacks my mother gave me, so this ‘80s + horror + kids’ combination is one I’ve known in quite a while, even though I haven’t read such books in at least a decade or more. I suppose watching Stranger Things also put me back in the mood for those, and so here I was, getting into ‘The Sacrifice Box’.

As far as horror stories go, a lot of the usual ingredients are here. Strange happenings. Kids who find they have to gather to stop something evil from happening (and they can’t tell their parents, because they’d just sound crazy). School life with its teachers, sports kids, and bullies and picking on a couple of the main characters, but all things considered, those pale compared to the real threat. A mysterious item with mysterious rules to follow, rules that get, of course, broken—madness ensues. Dead animals coming back to life to attack people. Noises at night. A tiny town on an isolated island. The Halley comet looming over it all, like a bad omen.

All in all, I liked the setting itself, although at times it ‘tried a little too hard’, so to speak. However, where the book lacked a lot was the characters. The main point of view is Sep’s, interspersed with chapters viewed through the eyes of a couple of minor characters, like Mario, the vet doubling as chippy owner, in whose restaurant Sep works; or Thom and Aileen, two older people who also opened the box and made sacrifices back in 1941 when the war was raging (the story’s set in the UK, by the way—it’s not always very clear, as the atmosphere feels very ‘US-like’). The problem is that, as far as the other four kids are concerned, I didn’t get more than superficial impressions about them. For instance, Lamb is the hockey player, lives on a farm with her father, and lost her mother when she was a kid, yet apart from that and from her anger at whoever broke the rules of the box, I never really ‘saw’ her, who she was, how she really felt, her fears, and so on; and in such a horror-driven story, with such a concept of a box into which a band of children placed items loaded with both good and bad emotions, childhood fears, hopes and feelings would’ve been a necessary element to play on for all the characters, not just one.

I also didn’t see the point to the bully. At first, I expected him to play more of a part—perhaps the kind of character who ends up completely crazy, starts muttering about having to ‘kill the evil’, grabs a rifle, becomes an impediment to the kids’ efforts to restore the order (it’s a bit cliché, but it’d have its place in such a plot). And then… It just petered out. In the same way, I would've appreciated more of a conclusion regarding the events and the box itself: the epilogue doesn't shed light on all the things that should've followed (how did the parents react, what about all the dead people, how were events explained officially, etc.). Here, too, some plot ends were left dangling.

Conclusion: A fast read, and rather entertaining in a superficial way; but the novel kept feeling like an attempt to surf on the “Stranger Things” wave, and didn't live up to the kind of books/stories it tried to be an homage to.

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review 2018-04-03 11:13
After the End of the World
After the End of the World - Jonathan L. Howard

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

This novel picks up where the previous one left (if you haven’t read it yet, stop here), or roughly, after Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter, alogn with Detective Harrelson, have been stranded in the Unfolded world for a few months, slowly adjusting to their lives in Arkham-instead-of-Providence.

And it’s not easy, because even though the Unfolded world is fairly similar when it comes to daily life (and better, in some ways, as in when Emily realises she own a nice house here instead of renting a flat), in many other ways, it is tremendously different. For starters, World War II ended much sooner, when the Third Reich dropped an A-bomb on Moscow in 1941, obliterating its whole leadership; and the Reich is now one of the world’s superwpoers, having been accepted because, well, the Holocaust didn’t concerned Jews but Communists, and for some reason this was much more acceptable to the West who turned a blind eye and ha-hemmed in a corner while it happened. Which infuriates Dan and Emily just as much, a different kind of evil still being evil after all; also, the Nazis are welcome in the USA and racism much more prevalent, so the Unfolded world isn’t so peachy for Emily herself.

(On a side note, I wish we had seen more of that. I don’t enjoy racist slurs in the least, but in terms of ‘show, don’t tell’, it never felt like Emily was really ostracised, apart from a couple of instances when some Gestapo guy said ‘who’s that black down there’ or something to that extent. In turn, the ‘lessons in political correctness’ given at times didn’t have the impact they could’ve had.)

The world is definitely not right by our heroes’ standards, who want nothing more than bring back its Folded version, but have no clues where to start… until Emily finds out she has the Necronomicon in her safe, Henry Weston is at his shenanigans again, and Daniel gets hired to spy on a joint German-US project in Miskatonic University. Weird stuff ensues, veering into spy-thriller-weird more than HPL-weird at first, but no worries, the latter is never too far behind.

Although I was hesitant at first about the spy thriller part, probably because of its apparent simplistic aspects (US vs Communists or US vs Nazis, it’s kind of the same... also Nazis make easy enemies: Instant Evil! Just add water!), the way it was handled was all in all interesting, in part because, let’s be honest, it makes for contrived enemies… but it also makes for entertaining scenarii. In fact, it reminded me of the Call of Cthulhu/Adventure! Crossover RPG I had played a few years ago, as well as of Indiana Jones movies, and I soon found my bearings again in that kind of plot and setting. We get typical but useful ingredients: scientists working on a secret project infiltrated left and right by Gestapo, Abwehr and probably a few others (Daniel even manages to throw the CIA in all that, and it blends in perfectly); research influenced by esoterism; evil cultists who’re all the more evil because they treat sacrifice as if it was a mere bureaucratic matter; a secret research facility on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean; not exactly human beings; and this mix works fairly well here.

Another thing I liked was that the focus shifted slightly in this book from Dan to Emily. We already know by now of Dan’s ancestor and the abilities he’s inherited, and there was a solid risk of Emily remaining more of a sidekick (a badass one, but a sidekick nonetheless) when it came to the weird/non-Euclidian parts. Well, let’s just say that reading can indeed empower people. (I bet you can already tell where this is going.)

Conclusion: 4 stars, it was an enjoyable read in spite of the few peeves I had about it, and I breezed through it, and now I want the next instalment.

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